Dewey M Clayton
In one of his comedy routines, Chris Rock says, “All my Black friends have a bunch of white friends. And all my white friends have one Black friend.” Based on polling conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, Chris Rock is onto something. A PRRI survey found 75% of White Americans have entirely White social networks with no minority presence. PRRI’s interviews revealed it’s not simply that people are unfamiliar with other races, but that they probably don’t even know any minorities. This absence of interaction leads to negative stereotypes and misconceptions about their behavior and status.
Given that our neighborhoods are highly segregated throughout America, this should surprise no one. If the residents of Jefferson County see the value in our youth being educated alongside kids of all different colors and backgrounds, though, we will need to bus them throughout the district.
When the Brown v. Board of Education decision was handed down by the US Supreme Court in 1954, the possibilities became endless. Brown had overturned the Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) decision establishing the doctrine of “separate but equal.” Sound familiar? Sadly, the promise of Brown — that our public schools would educate all students collectively without regard to race, ethnicity, or income — seems to be slipping away.
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I am deeply troubled about the proposed new assignment plan for the Jefferson County Public Schools. So, I have re-read the informative article on busing in Louisville, published in The Courier Journal by Olivia Krauth and Mandy McLaren.
Their analysis shows that if busing has failed in Louisville, it’s because Louisville let it fail. They point out that the modern-day assignment plan is a shell of 1975’s mandatory court-ordered busing. Then, nearly all students – white and black – left their neighborhoods to create diverse schools. However, they note that “policy changes and court decisions whittled away at the initial plan, with changes frequently placing the comfort of White families ahead of the needs of Black families.”
Krauth and McLaren observe that today only about 6,500 students – less than 7% of the district – are assigned to schools for diversity purposes, and nearly all are Black. They conclude that “JCPS has a racially inequitable plan that places the burden of desegregating schools on Black students while ensuring they attend high-poverty, hyper-segregated schools if they stay close to home.”
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio was quoted in The Courier Journal as saying the “plan will restore fairness … by giving families from Louisville’s predominantly Black West End a choice in where their children go to school.” And he stated, “This is not about segregating schools or keeping students in the West End. It’s not about neighborhood schools.” Pollio is really offering Black students in the West End a Hobson’s choice: taking what is available or nothing at all. But why do Black students alone bear the task of desegregating JCPS schools?
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So why doesn’t JCPS go back to the drawing board and create a student assignment plan that buses all students in the effort to truly diversify schools? The intrinsic value of having integrated public schools was the reason for busing in the first place. Gary Orfield, a noted scholar who worked with JCPS on his student assignment plan, has argued that a school district alone cannot bear the brunt of desegregating an otherwise segregated community. He testified to the school board about the importance of adding housing desegregation initiatives in order to strengthen the student assignment plan implemented after the US Supreme Court, in Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education, struck down the race-based student assignment plan in 2007.
An important part of public education is putting all children in an environment of a variety of different backgrounds, races, and ethnicities so they can get to know and respect one another, become better citizens, and be better prepared to enter a diverse workplace based on a global economy.
I urge the members of the JCPS Board of Education to reconsider the consequences of the proposed new assignment plan. Our children will grow, learn, and thank them someday.
Dewey M. Clayton, Ph.D. is a professor of political science at the University of Louisville